POV: How does Family Fundamentals differ aesthetically from your previous work?
Arthur Dong: New digital technology enabled me to make Family Fundamentals as a virtual one-man-band. At the time I began this project, a new camera, the Sony PD-150, was just released and the image and audio possibilities were astounding. I was able to serve not only as the producer, director, and writer, but was also as the cinematographer, location sound recordist, and editor. I had never made a film this way and it was liberating to not have a crew, particularly when I “dropped in” on people. For example, when Brett told me about his grandmother’s wedding literally a few days before it was to happen, I had no team, let alone money to hire one. But since I handled all the technical roles myself, it was merely an administrative decision to go ahead. It was a no-brainer.
More importantly was the intimacy I was able to capture for the film. When I first thought about Family Fundamentals, a film genre called video diaries was popular. Part of that process asked subjects in films to shoot their own footage, including setting a camera in front of themselves and to say and do what they wanted. Some of the more successful video diaries offered unadulterated moments that were exhilarating, but others were a bit self-indulgent and tedious.
I wondered, “would it be possible to produce a video diary type of film, bursting with spontaneity, but with a director at the helm?” This notion was key in my approach to Family Fundamentals. I let myself loose and discarded many of the self-imposed and learned filmmaking rules that I had acquired through the years. No longer was I overly concerned with lighting, sound, and other technical requirements; what became primary was the reality of the moment. As a result, some of the sequences in “Family Fundamentals” are the most telling and emotional I’ve every filmed, and I let them guide me in the editing room to shape the film’s final form.